Category Archives: From the Past

from the archives of Aysgarth church

For the love of horses – 1894


In 1894 the editor of The Church Monthly asked the Rev Theodore Wood FES to write about the horses (like the Suffolk Punch) which were a major feature of life at that time, pointing out the duty of treating them with thoughtfulness and consideration and how they repaid kindness. Wood included a fascinating story about the horses which then worked at Hitchin railway station.

Wood wrote: I will base what I have to say upon two old Arabian sayings.

The first of these refers to the horse in relation to man: ‘God made horses for man and shaped their bodies in accordance with his needs.’

I suppose that most of us have been struck with the marvellous suitability of the horse’s frame to the work which it called upon the perform. We want to ride the animal; and its back seems shaped purposely to receive the saddle. We require to direct its course; and its mouth seems specially formed to receive the bit. We expect it to draw heavy weights, often over rough ground; and we find that its strength is largely concentrated into its fore-quarters. We call upon it to gallop at speed and sometimes to leap over obstacles; and we discover that its feet are provided with strong stout hoofs which not only protect them from injury against the ground, but also serve to break the shock of its fall. For the hoofs are not mere sold blocks of horn but are made up of a vast number of springs which are very similar to those which we use in the framework of our carriages and fulfil exactly the same function. One can scarcely help feeling that the Arabs are right, and that the connections between horse and man did indeed enter into the scheme of the Creator.

But – perhaps by reason of these same natural advantages – we are rather apt to look upon the horse as a kind of live machine. We fail to credit it, for example, with the intelligence which it really possesses. We ‘break’ it to its work, often by a system of perfectly needless cruelty. When it is ‘broken’ we expect nothing more from it than a mere mechanical obedience to our commands. Yet the horse which is allowed and encouraged to work intelligently is by far the better servant; and, when it has thoroughly learned its duties, no animal is more trustworthy.

Take, for example, the huge cart horses which may be seen working any day at Hitchin railway station. The two last carriages of the early morning trains are ‘through coaches’ and have to be backed on to a siding in order that they may be attached to the London express which stops at the station shortly afterwards. This work is performed by horses.

As soon as the carriages are uncoupled the animals drag them away to the siding and there stand patiently for the express. The odd thing is, that they are perfectly aware that the main line expresses, which run  through the station, have nothing to do with them and pay no attention to them whatever. But the very moment that the fast train from the Cambridge branch passes they bend to their work, drag the carriages along until they are only half a dozen yards away from the rear of the train as it stands waiting at the platform, and then suddenly step sideways off the line, so that the impetus of the coaches may carry them to just the required spot.

A porter accompanies the animals but he never touches them with whip or rein. He seldom even speaks to them save to utter a word or two of encouragement. And the secret of it all is simply this – that the horses know their work and are trusted to perform it intelligently, as almost all horses will if they are treated kindly and the opportunity is afforded them.

It is scarcely too much, indeed, to say that there seems to be in the horse a natural willingness – almost a natural desire – to recognise man as its master and to serve him to the best of its ability.

The second of the two Arabian sayings refers not to the horse in relation to man, but to man in relation to the horse. ‘As many grains of barley as are contained in the food we give to a horse, so many blessings do we daily gain.’

There cannot be a doubt, on the whole, that animals are better treated than they were. We are gradually awakening to a sense of our responsibilities, although the cruelties which are still too often practised are sickening enough. Horses especially suffer from thoughtlessness and unintentional cruelty.

What else than cruelty is it to strap up their heads with tight bearing-reins and then expect the same amount of work from them as if their heads were free? A horse cannot put out its full strength unless it can lower its head; and to prevent it from doing so is simply to reduce its usefulness by at least one half, and at the same time condemn it to severe and unnecessary torture.

What else than cruelty is it to keep a horse in a stable in which it can obtain neither light nor fresh air? I have been greatly struck by noticing how often, in some of the Hertfordshire towns and villages, the horses of tradesmen and others are kept in ‘barns’ scarcely large enough to contain them, in perfect darkness and with no provision whatever for ventilation. I sincerely wish that a law could be passed to prevent such shameful ill-treatment of an animal which is often the true ‘bread-winner’ of the family. Thoughtless cruelty it is perhaps; but it is cruelty all the same.

Truly there are many ways in which the lot of animals may yet be improved, and a little more thought and a little more consideration will brighten the life of many a hard-working servant of man.


Reproduced with permission of Aysgarth PCC

A Railway Engine ride in 1894

‘A Ride on a Railway Engine’, by F M Holmes, published in The Church Monthly  1894


Above: ‘Flying Dutchman’ passing through Collumpton in the 1890s

‘Right away, Jem! There’s the whistle!’

Jem opens the throttle – that is, he turns on the steam – and the engine slowly to move.

Watch him, and you will see that he is lifting the handle of the ‘throttle’ gradually. If he turned on the full head of steam at once the probability is that, with the heavy weight of the train behind, the driving-wheels of the engine would fly round uselessly, and would not grip the rails at all.

Sometimes this does occur when the rails are greasy. Then the ever-ready hand of the driver closes the throttle for the moment and his equally ready fireman sends sand on to the rail through a pipe provided for the purpose.

But nothing happens like this today. And the engine gathering speed – as the steam is gradually increased and the heavy train acquires momentum – is soon flying along  through the suburbs of the great city. Then, with a burst, we are into the open country.

The air rushes past so furiously that it seems like enough – as people say – to cut your ears off; and there is a jerking, shaking motion that seems as though it might throw you off your feet. You clutch at a steel rail near by convulsively to steady yourself.

How warm you are on one side as you stand here on the footplate of the engine and perforce near the hot furnace; and how chilly by comparison you are on the other; and how difficult amid this noise and racket to hear what your companions are saying.

‘Signals up!’ A wild shriek startles your ears as the engine whistle rises above the rush and roar of the train, but still the signal does not move. Then off goes the steam. The driver, standing with is hand on the throttle and his face to the window in front, sees there is no alternative, and turns the handle; and his fireman applies the brake.

There is a crippled motion of the wheels and the tremendous speed begins sensibly to slacken. Then suddenly down falls the signal and the line is clear. The watchful driver opens the throttle again, the brake is off, and once more we fly on along the railway at fifty or sixty miles an hour, the passengers behind scarce noticing, perhaps, that a check has been made. A signal against an express is very unusual; and that signalman will probably have to make an explanatory report to the authorities tomorrow as to the reason why his signal was at ‘Danger’.

train_stokerThen the fireman plies his shovel again. He is always doing it. The quantity of coal consumed by a railway engine would astonish the ordinary householder considerably. Perhaps the majority of people do not know that the waste steam, after doing its work, rushes up the chimney and thus creates an enormous draught, burning the fuel fast and raising the steam quickly. Yet this arrangement is, so to speak, the very life-blood of the locomotive, and is one of the most important principles utilised by Stephenson. The faster the engine tears along the more steam she raises – provided she have a sufficiency of coal and water. There is no need for a forced draught, as in some steamships.

The furnace filled up, the fireman seizes a moment for a drink of cold team. Then down comes smart shower of rain, and in a trice the thick pilot coats of the driver and his stoker are out and over their shoulders. But it does not last long; we soon drive through it and the sun is shining brightly again on the long lines of flashing metals that ever and ever stretch ahead.

You gain quite a different view when riding on an engine from when riding comfortably in a carriage. In the latter case you cannot look ahead. You gain views, more or less satisfactory, of the country beside you. But on an engine, through the windows of the ‘cab’ – as the screen and protection for the men is called on a locomotive – your eyes are drawn as by a spell to look forward. There is constantly before you the dry pathway cut by lines of gleaming steel and occasionally broken by a station. And indeed this is one of the most important parts of the driver’s duty, in order to watch the signals. With hand on the throttle handle and face to the window, he guides the flying engine over its iron road.

Then the gauges have to be watched – the steam gauge, which shows how much, or how little, is in the boiler. There seem to be handles all round you. This  is the large lever which works the reversing gear of the engine and causes it to travel backwards. This handle admits water to the boiler; and this one blows off steam when the pressure is too great. Another works the brake; and a powerful vacuum or Westinghouse brake [air brake named after George Westinghouse who invented it in New York State in 1869] can be applied all along the train from the engine itself.

The power of these brakes is enormous. Fast expresses can be drawn up in splendid time by their commanding means. At the end of a large station platform the train seems flying along at its normal speed. But almost within its own length it is brought to a stand.

This great brake power is sometimes not without a comical side – to an observer. On one occasion, an engine driver was endeavouring to take out a long line of empty coaches from a certain metropolitan station. For some reason, which he could not understand, his engine would scarcely move. The steam was all right, his brakes were all right, yet the big train to which he was attached only crept along. At last he jumped from his engine and hurried to the guard’s van. With a roar he proclaimed the secret – the brake was ‘on’ there crippling all his efforts! In a moment,  however, it was ‘off’ and he was soon down the line with his empty carriages.

The keen watchfulness of signals is one of the most important duties of enginemen. They pass hundreds in the course of the day and, according to the state of the signal, so have the men to act, or refrain from acting. That signal-arm we can see far along the line… that arm, growing larger as we quickly approach it, lowers to allow us to pass. We fly by at lightning speed and, in a second, it rises again to prohibit anything  else from following us till we are far ahead and beyond the next block-space of line.

How fast can a train travel? It is not an easy question to answer. Probably the average rate of most English fast trains is about 45 miles an hour. But it must be remembered that in order to attain this average speed, including all stoppages and ‘pantings’ up heavy gradients, the train must sometimes run much faster. A mile a minute is often accomplished. Mr W. M. Acworth tells us that a Worsdell ‘compound’ engine once ran from Grant’s House to Berwick at 76 miles an hour for some miles in succession as indicated by the speed register on the engine. And the 2 p.m. Great Northern from Manchester, one of the fastest regular trains in the world, was reported in the Engineer to have rushed over short distances at the rate of 78 miles and 76 miles per hour from Grantham to London.

It is competition, no doubt, that has something to do with this quick running. By the Great Northern route Manchester  is 203 miles from London, by the North Western 189 miles, and by the Midland 191 1/4 miles. In order, therefore, to compete successfully with the fast 4 1/4-hour expresses of the North Western, the Great Northern must run faster by about three miles an hour.

The kind of road over which the engine travels has a good deal to do with its speed. Up hill and down dale spoils the pace of engines as of horses; and a moderate average speed – on paper – over a hard road may be really better work than a sensationally high record along a flat valley. Then there is economical stoking to be considered.  The drivers engaged on certain classes of work are, on one line at least, formed into a party or, as it is called, a ‘link’. All the coal and oil supplies to each engine is put down and the amount added up weekly and divided by the number of miles the engine has run. A notice showing how much each man has used is then exhibited, the most economical, combined with punctuality, being of course placed at top. The good stoker should, at the end of the engine’s work for the day or night show a clear fire burnt to the bars, but with undiminished steam pressure.

Enginemen know their engines like their alphabet and their roads like their native town. As each locomotive contains something like 5,000 separate pieces, this knowledge is not acquired in a day. Drivers have long and arduous preparation to plod through before they are promoted to the foot-plate of an express, and they have onerous work when they get there. But it is worthy of a man – a man with a good head on his shoulders and steady courage in his heart.

[Today we can say man or woman…]


reproduced with the permission of Aysgarth PCC.

Herring fishing in 1894

A Night in a Herring Boat’ by the Rev A M Fosbrooke, then curate of Stoke-on-Trent


It was three o’clock in the afternoon when we started from Port Erin. There were eight of us on board, seven fishermen and myself. The dingy having been hauled up, and the sails hoisted, in a few moments the strong breeze blowing carried the Puffin out of the bay and westwards towards the Irish coast.

We had a mackerel-line out and, though the boat was going much too fast for satisfactory fishing, about half a dozen were caught before evening. The sky became dark and cloudy and, before long, the rain descended in torrents, so as to make one thankful for the oilskins, sea boots, and sou’-wester which a sailor had kindly lent. About 8pm the sky cleared and we were favoured with a beautiful sunset. The wind fell and practically no further progress could be made, so it was decided to ‘shoot’ the nets.

We were about mid-channel – the Manx coast on the one hand and the Mourne Mountains on the other being distinctly visible. A large number of puffins and other birds were flying about which made the men think they might have a successful night. The sails were lowered with the exception of a small jib; and as the boat slowly moved on by means of this one sail the net was cast out, it being connected at intervals to a strong rope called the ‘spring-back’, the same length as the net, the purpose of which will be explained in a moment. The two are connected together by one of the men as they are thrown out.

Let me try and explain the nature and position of the net as it lies in the water. On the surface there are large cock floats about every ten yards; from these  hang down thin ropes, called the ‘straps’, about nine feet long, which are fastened to the spring-back. From this, again, hang thin ropes called the ‘legs’, about 12 feet long. These are fastened to the rope along the top of the net which is called the ‘back’, and the net itself, weighted at the bottom to keep it perpendicular, is about 30 feet deep; so that from the surface of the water to the top of the net is about 21 feet, to the bottom of the net 51 feet. The length of the net is about one mile or sometimes longer than that.

The object of having the net so far below the surface is partly, of course, as being more favourable for catching the fish, but also to enable any ship which might happen to cross the net to do so without causing any damage. Even still, a ship drawing a great deal of water such as our ironclads, will sometimes carry away their nets to the great loss of the fishermen.

The whole of the net having been ‘shot’ out, the large mast is lowered in order that the boat may not roll so much in a rough sea and also to prevent the wind catching her so much. A small sail at the stern keeps her steady with her head to the wind. A light is put up as a danger signal, one man stays on deck to keep watch, the rest retired for the night. And there the boat lies tossing aobut on the rolling waves, looking very much like a wreck, with her mast lying down and her ropes hanging loosely about.

Before we lay down to rest in the small cabin … an evening hymn was sung and prayer offered by one of the men, commending themselves and their loved ones to the care of our Heavenly Father and asking Him to ‘preserve to them the produce of the seas.’ This is an old time-honoured custom among the fishermen; it is still kept up on many of the boats, though not on all. It was rather a remarkable fact that all  my seven companions that night were total abstainers. Nothing of an intoxicating nature is allowed on board the Puffin.

It was very hot and stuffy with seven of us in the small cabin, about three yards long by two yards wide, and a hot fire in the grate on an August evening! This heat and the rolling of the boat in a rough sea were very conducive to sea-sickness. I was not sorry when at 3am the day began to dawn and all hands were called on deck to haul in the net. This, of course, is the most interesting part of the proceedings.

The net is no drawn in from the two ends, enclosing the fish, as many of us might suppose, but just hauled in from the one end in the following manner: Two men work at the winch, hauling in the spring-back. The boat is thus gradually drawn along by the weight of the net. Another man unfastens the cords connecting the spring-back to the net; two others haul in the  net and set free the fish; one arranges the net in order in the hold as it comes in, another coils up the spring-back in another part of the hold; so that the seven men are really required for the work. The fish are caught by swimming into the net and getting fastened by their gills in its meshes. Then, as the net is hauled over the bulwarks, they are pulled off one by on or, if the catch is a large one, they are shaken off on to the deck by jerking the net.

Unfortunately, the fish seem to be leaving the Irish Sea; for the last four or five years only very few have been caught. Only 400 were taken on this occasion and many a night they do not take so many as that, whereas in the good days they could take as many as the boats could carry. They have sometimes been known to take as many as 100 ‘mease’ (a mease = five full hundreds of 120 each). One cannot help feeling great sympathy for the fishermen in the poverty and distress which seem to threaten them at present. The hauling of the net took over an hour. Then the mast of the boat was re-erected, the sails hoisted, and her bow turned towards home.We caught a few more mackerel with the trawling-line while returning.

Breakfast was prepared on board consisting of coffee, bread and butter, and a real fresh herring, which was most delicious. The sun rising over the Manx hills and lighting up the sky with very varied tints made a beautiful picture. A strong, favourable wind bore us on at a great speed and by 8am I was back again in Port Erin Bay after a very interesting and enjoyable experience.


transcribed from The Church Monthly annual 1894 with permission of Aysgarth Parochial Church Council.

Lighthouses with Paraffin lanterns in the 1890s



From ‘Up in a Lighthouse’ by F M Holmes, published in The Church Monthly annual 1894

Above: The Inchcape Rock Lighthouse

‘Take care! Mind how you go! These steps were not built for unaccustomed visitors.’

‘All right, I can manage, I am used to strange places.’ And clinging tightly to the rail we mount the almost perpendicular stairs.

So solid is the masonry around, so firmly jointed together and so smooth for the raging sea to slip past without doing any damage, that the broad-based tower seems as thought it might live for ever.

Look below at the foundations. ‘Aye, they are cut deep into the solid rock,’ says the lighthouse keeper; ‘and then for 20 or 30 feet up the tower is built strong blocks of granite dovetailed together.’

At about that height the dwelling rooms commence, one above another, and are reached by ladders. Three men always live here, the full staff being four; but one is usually away  on shore, the men going off duty in rotation.

lighthouse_lanternAt the top of the tower rises the lantern – of strictly speaking, the lamp-room – about 10 feet high, whence the guiding light flashes forth over miles of sea.

The lantern is largely made of glass, like a hothouse; and splendid views you can gain through its glazed sides of miles of heaving seas. A blue expanse it appears this afternoon, flecked with white in the summer sunshine.

In the room itself glass and bright metal glint everywhere. It is domed with copper, and fitted with quarter-inch or half-inch plate glass ‘sides supported in diagonal astragals, or mouldings of gun-metal. These are so arranged that they do not intercept the light when it is required to beam forth.

In the centre rises the lighting apparatus and, at first sight, it seems something like a mound of prisms. What can be the reason for all these ribs of glass? The answer is that they  help to condense the rays of light into one strong beam.

‘Why, I suppose our light here,’ says the lighthouse keeper, ‘can be seen for nearly 20 miles – 17 at least, and perhaps more.’

‘But I can’t see how these curious triangular ribs can accomplish that.’

‘Well, you must know – nearly everybody knows – how much a shining reflector behind a lamp intensifies its light in one direction. And the mirror is usually concave to bend the rays that radiate above and below more decidedly into one line. That is what these reflectors accomplish; only far, far more effectually. A parabolic reflector 20 inches or so across will increase the light-giving power of the lamp about 400 times, or even more.’

‘Then these prisms are to bend down the rays of light that would rise too high, and to bend up the rays of light that would sink too low?’

‘Exactly; we do not want to try and illuminate the sky and the sea; we want to send strong beams as far as we can round the horizon. A lighthouse is a guide, rather than an illuminator, like a street lamp.’

‘And why have you several reflectors group round like this?’

‘In order to send several beams of equal power all round the horizon, where these is sea. That arrangement gives what we call a fixed light. For a revolving light, if the reflectors be grouped on a frame, with only two or more faces as required, and the frame be caused to revolve, light and dark intervals are, of course, produced – for the light only shines through the faces. In a similar manner, by a suitable arrangement of the reflectors, a group-flashing light is produced – that is, a light giving two or three flashes and then a brief period of darkness. Light of different colours can also be shown.’

‘Ah, just so. It is by such means as these that lights are given their characteristic and distinguishing features.’

‘And, by nothing their number of flashes or other peculiarities, a sailor can tell what light it is and consequently determine, more or less, his position.  Of course, we have a lens as well – even a policeman’s bull’s-eye lantern has a lens – and with the numerous wicks and large lamp-flame now used, and the big prisms bending above and below, there is not a ray of light that escapes.’

This system is called holophotal. The word means reflecting or refracting light without loss of light. Paraffin is the illuminant. ‘Nearly every sort of oil haws been used,’ says the lighthouse keeper, ‘but paraffin comes to the top. It burns brighter, and it is cheaper.’

Peering into the midst of the prisms to see the gigantic lamp itself, we distinguish not one wick but many – seven in fact, like concentric rings – one within the other.  Some lights, indeed, have nine wicks; this multiplication of them, of course, greatly increasing the illuminating power. With these numerous wicks, the oil has to be supplied by clock-work pumps, or pushed by a heavy piston. An overflow pipe permits the paraffin to run back to the fountain should it at any time rise above a certain point.

The electric light has also been used with great success at various lighthouses; and for harbour lights, where gas may be readily obtained, that illuminant is sometimes employed. But at times even the most powerful illuminants are obscured by fog – what then?

Then this curious-looking trumpet comes into play. Terrible is the nose it makes. No human breath blows it. Gas engines are needed, and in some lighthouses oil engines and compressed air are used to evoke its ear-splitting but useful sound. When the day is dense with obscuring fog and even the light of a nine-wick  lamp, focussed into a few powerful beams by many prisms, can struggle but a poor mile or two into the bewildering gloom, then this trumpet, called by strange irony a siren, will shriek forth its warning blasts.

There are two discs in the siren-trumpet, each disc a foot in diameter, and with a dozen radial slits. One disc is fixed but the other rotates rapidly, nearly 2000 times a minute.  Sirens can be so arranged as to give signals, such as two or three blasts in rapid succession at certain intervals; and the passing sailors should then know the lighthouse, even as if they could see its characteristic light. The shriek of the siren can be heard sometimes for ten miles. Charges of detonating powder are also fired at some stations, electricity being used to explode the cartridges; so that when the light fails to piece the shrouding fog, the lighthouses still strive to perform their duty of guiding and warning, by means of thunderous sound. A little-known explosive called tonite is sometimes used for these warnings. Tonite appears to be a mixture of gun-cotton and nitrate of baryta forced into a cartridge like a candle.

eddystone_lighthouse‘And what are those panes?’ you ask; looking a frameworks of copper filled with glass.

‘Storm panes,’ is the answer; ‘they are kept in readiness should a pane of glass be broken in the lantern.’

‘And do you often have to use them?’

‘Very rarely; and then it is generally because birds or stones are blown against the lantern glass in a tremendous gale. It is very seldom that the wind alone breaks the glass. You see these gun-metal mouldings and thick plate glass panes are very strong.’

‘Do birds break the glass?’ exclaims some one in surprise.

‘They do so, and no mistake. You might be watching here some dark night and see scores of birds beating against the glass, and blown hard against it. Perhaps they are migrating to another country at the change of seasons, or perhaps they are coming to this land. Anyhow, there they are; likely enough they are tired out with their flight and attracted by the light, or knocked against the glass by the wind.’

What a different scene is thus conjured up, from the calm, bright summer sunshine of the lovely afternoon. But whatever the moods of weather – though tempests rage and torrents of rain lash the streaming glass; though the storm-tossed billows strike the house with thunderous sound, and dash the spray high up the sides; though the blasts seems to shake the massive tower with the fury of wind and wave; though choking fog encompass it around, or the calm moon rides in a cloudless sky – yet still in every change of changeful life this friendly beacon sends forth its warnings of light and sound.


Reproduced with permission of Aysgarth Parochial Church Council

Out with the Fire Brigade in 1894

From The Church Monthly in 1894: “Out with the Fire Brigade” by F M Holmes

fire_fireThere is the alarm bell!

The startling clang rings through the room and a tablet has fallen on the wall, not far from your head, revealing the name of the London street whence the alarm was given.

Some one has broken the glass and pulled the handle of the fire-alarm post in that thoroughfare, and instantly all the arrangements of the station for proceeding to the fire are set in motion.

There are always men on duty, and more alarm bells ring with noise enough to wake the proverbial Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. A pair of horses are always in readiness, their noble heads, full of animation and expectancy, turned towards the stable door and the light  harness hanging over them,  ready to descend at a second’s notice, is dropped on their backs.

The intelligent creatures know the ring of the alarm bell as well as the men and are as eager to be off. The preparations are so complete that, when a rope is pulled, down falls the harness. Full of excitement, the steeds are led to the engine which, in its turn, is as fully prepared as are the horses. The traces are hooked on, the men  jump to their seats, and with the startling cry of ‘Fire! Fire!’ screamed as only a London fireman can utter it, the engine tears out of the station and into the street. Less than two minutes has elapsed since the ringing of the alarm bell; and the engine is already on its way.

Most exciting is the rush through the streets. Quick movement through the air is usually exhilarating at any time and to this is added the excitement of the fire and the startling cries of the firemen. Everything scatters before us. Even the red carts of the Post Office – which may trespass on the thoroughfares reserved for royal processions – have to give place to the dashing Fire Brigade.

With steam hissing from the boiler, with horses all aglow with excitement, and with alarming cries of ‘Fire! Fire!’ ringing along the street, a pathway opens as if by magic through the most crowded thoroughfares; and almost before you know it you have arrived at the scene of the fire.

Here the excitement is no less; but the men are as cool as cucumbers. ‘Play on that part of the building’, comes the order, hardly sooner said than done. The engine, which a few minutes ago was quiet at the station, is now at vigorous work some miles distant from its home.

fire_ladderThe flames burst out through the veil of smoke and leap upward to the sky. The gathering crowd press forward with excited faces and are, with difficulty, kept back by the few policemen on the spot. A cry raises: ‘Somebody is in the building!’ And here comes the fire-escape which will reach the highest windows. It is placed against the house and quickly a fireman mounts. See! he has rescued a mother and child, and he brings them down amid excited cheers. Sometimes he has a much harder task; for he enters the burning building and gropes amid the blinding smoke and scorching heat to rescue the half-suffocated sufferers from the flames.

Meantime, other engines have arrived. Each fulfils its part. While some are playing on the fire itself, others are drenching surrounding walls with water to prevent the fire from spreading; and ere long the officer in charge will be able to report that the fire is localised and mastered.  Wise forethought, as well as smart promptitude on the part of the men, have contributed to these satisfactory results.

If you had inspected the engine you would have found everything ready for instant departure – the fire laid, axes, hose, and apparatus in position; but you would also have found two things which perhaps you would not expect. Under the boiler is placed a movable gas jet which keeps the water always hot; and by the funnel is  large fusee [a large-headed match capable of staying alight in strong winds].

When the alarm sounds, one of the men on duty ignites the fusee at once – he knows exactly where to find it – and drops it down the chimney. The fusee is certain to flame well and lights the material below, already prepared to receive its fiery touch. The quick rush of the engine through the air does the rest; for the speed creates such a strong draught that the engine fire soon roars in its box, and raises the heated water to steam.

The steam in the fire-engine is used for pumping the water and throwing it on the burning building. But, successful as it is, the steam fire-engine has not superseded the use of manuals; while for small fires – of which there are a great number in the Metropolis – the little portable hand-pumps are said to be of the greatest value. These little pumps can be used anywhere, and taken into rooms where the fire may be burning. Speedily used they will, in ordinary circumstances, quickly extinguish the flames and prevent a little conflagration from becoming a big one. The water for their use is contained in a bucket which is supplied by other buckets of water handed up by assistants.

Valuable as these little pumps are for small fires, however, there is need, of course, for the glittering and powerful steam fire-engines for bigger fires; and of these ‘steamers’ the Brigade have fifty on land and about ten floating on the Thames. There are also a large number of manuals. Their wheels are broad and tired with wavy iron bands which project in some places beyond the sides of the wheels themselves.

Many persons, no doubt, would puzzle for hours over the reason for these strange iron tires; but the reason is simple. They are used to prevent the wheels from canting or tripping at the tram rails which seam so many London thoroughfares. It would be a bad accident, and a terrible hindrance at a critical time,  for a fire-engine to be overturned when driven at a headlong pace to a fire. In the same way, should a horse fall when tearing along, the harness is so arranged that the turning of a swivel-bar at the end of the engine-pole dividing the two horses, will free the animal in front, and he can be unhooked and helped to his feet again in a trice.

The hose also is subjected to a most severe testing before being used. At a fire, the water is forced through the hose at a pressure of a 110 pounds to the square inch. For a hose to burst under this strain would be a great disaster. Consequently, every length is tested up to the severe strain of 300 pounds to the square inch, so that it is as certain as anything mortal can be to stand firm in actual work. The hose is now made of strong, India rubber-lined canvas which is light and flexible as well as tough and tenacious, and has quite superseded the old hose, made of pieces of leather and riveted together by metal fastenings. The hose for the suction-pipe, communicating with the water supply, is usually stiffened by spiral wire and is still very flexible.

A fire-engine, therefore, has to do two things: it has to draw large quantities of water from a suitable source of supply; and it has to throw that water, steadily and continuously, and sometimes to a great height, on to the fire. This is accomplished by means of force-pumps in the engine and an air-chamber. The pumps draw water through the suction tube from the water pipes under the street, or other suitable source of supply, and force the precious fluid into a strong air-chamber or chest, thereby compressing the air in that chest to a high degree. But, having pressed the air to a certain point, the air itself will, in its turn, become stronger than the fore-pumps, and exert pressure on the water, which it forces out through the host to the fire. It will continue to do this until the water sinks in the chest.  So long, therefore, as the two pumps force water into the chest, up to or above the requisite level, so long will the compressed air expel the water to the fire in a steady and continuous stream. The two pumps are arranged to work reciprocally – that is, one is drawing water, while the other is forcing it into the air-chamber, each in its turn.

The rule is that a steamer shall go from one station and a manual from another station in the neighbourhood.  Thus, the stations are not left without resources should another fire break out in the district. All the Metropolitan stations are connected by telegraphic or telephonic communications, so that the Headquarters at Southwark can be acquainted with all that occurs as regards fires in the Metropolis, and a large force concentrated speedily, if necessary, at any point. In addition to Headquarters there are five District Stations, each having a superintendent in control of the district, and having telephonic speech with Headquarters, and with each station in the district.

Being liable to be rung up in their sleep, firemen are, so to speak, kept constantly on duty, except for 24 hours in every 14 days which is their ‘day off’. Should, unfortunately, several fires occur about the same time in the same neighbourhood, the men may have to work for some 36 hours at a time. And, on returning from a fire, the hose has to be cleaned and scrubbed, and hung up in the hose-well to dry; the engines have to be kept in good order, and prepared for another journey at once should necessity arise.

Constant vigilance is the order of the day with the Fire Brigade; and to this is added elaborate preparation and daring bravery. Most of the outside public see only the headlong speed and feel the exciting thrill of the fateful moment; but behind and around that dashing ride lies the most careful fore-thought.

Reproduced with the permission of Aysgarth PCC.

Steam fire engines were in use from the 1840s until the 1920s. For more about them and a photo of horses pulling one at speed  click here

The Telegraph Messenger Boy in the 1890s

telegraphBoyOn her Majesty’ Service

by Frederick Sherlock:

Everybody knows the telegraph messenger. All over the kingdom, in  town and country, his bright, smart uniform is to be seen and, next to the postman, no public servant of the Queen is more in request. His office is one of great responsibility and usefulness; and if on any given day the electric telegraph suddenly came to an end, business would speedily become disorganised, and a great inroad would also be made upon the happiness of many  homes.

The messenger has no knowledge of the contents of the brown envelopes which are put into his hands to deliver with all speed. When he knocks at the door and hands in his message, he cannot tell whether he is a bearer of good news or ill. Sometimes his visit means nothing but sorrow. It may be the loss of the breadwinner by a fatal accident; or the news of a loved soldier son’s death in a far-off clime; or the tale of an attached daughter’s end in a London hospital after a lingering disease. Ah, well! for good or ill the telegraph messenger bustles about day after day, proud to be in Her Majesty’s service, and conscious that his calling is of real use to the community.

The conditions on which boys are taken into the service are not without interest. The limits of age are from 13 to  15.

Candidates between 13 and 14 must be at least four feet seven inches in height, without boots, and candidates between 14 and 15 not less than four feet eight inches. They must have passed Standard V of the new Educational Code, or some equivalent test, and are required to produce a satisfactory certificate of health from their own medical attendant, and certificate of having been satisfactorily vaccinated within the last seven years.

Duty does not commence, as a rule, before 8am and it continues for nine hours. The wages are 7s a week, rising by 1s a week annually to 11s, and uniform is supplied, including boots. All candidates have to sign a declaration, stating they are fully aware that this employment will not entitle them to promotion, compensation, or pension. That their services will be discontinued on their attaining 16 years of age, unless they then succeed in passing a competitive examination for direct appointment as postmen on reaching 18 years of age, or elect to remain two years longer as messengers, on the understanding that if they then enlist as soldiers, they shall, after serving the prescribed time with the colours, have preference over soldiers who have never been in the service of the Post Office, in obtaining employment in that department.

The other day I had a peep at the small Blue Book of ‘Instructions for Messengers in London’, which each messenger is required to produce at every inspection, and also whenever asked for by the messenger’s superior officer. The instructions cover conduct and delivery.  Rule 6. ‘You are at all times to keep yourself scrupulously clean, and to have your hair short and neatly cut.’ Or Rule 9… ‘You must take off your cap when in the Office, and you must always be respectful in your manner when spoken to by any person.’ City messengers are specially cautioned against sliding down handrails of the staircases! This is certainly a hard saying, for most health, high-spirited lads are under the impression that sliding down the handrail is an expeditious and graceful way of coming downstairs!

Rules 11 and 12 will command the sympathy of many people. 11. ‘You are strictly forbidden to smoke in or abut the Office, at any time, or in the streets when you are in uniform. Gambling, raffling, playing cards, and practical joking are strictly prohibited’. 12. ‘You must not, on any account, go into public-houses during your hours of duty except to deliver telegrams,’ which leads me to say that the Post Office.

At Christmas time severe temptations are placed in the way of the postmen and telegraph messengers. The ‘Christmas Glass’ has been the ruin of many fine fellows. Let us hope that this year the Christmas box to the postman and to the telegraph messenger will be in current coin, so that the receiver may take it  home, and spend it in the way he thinks best, or put it by in the Savings Bank for the rainy day which is sure to come when least expected.


From Church Monthly  1893, pp336-338. with permission of Aysgarth PCC.  The illustration was drawn by H Johnson

Bouquets for Waifs and Strays


Maypole dancing in the Vicarage garden following a Flower Festival probably in the 1930s.

There was great excitement at St Chad’s Home for Waifs and Strays in 1894 when a large hamper of flowers arrived from Aysgarth (see below). The bouquets had been presented by children at the Flower Service at St Andrew’s Church. A year earlier the Vicar, the Rev Fenwick Stow, reported that 300 children had attended the service. It seems incredible now that there were so many children in Aysgarth parish.

The children came from their small village schools (there were five at that time – at Aysgarth, Carperby, West Burton, Cross Lanes and Bishopdale) not just for the Flower Services but also for the teas and sports at the Vicarage (now Stow House) afterwards. They, with  their families and friends, obviously had a great time and as well as bringing a lot of joy into the lives of the girls at St Chads in Headingley, Leeds,  as can be seen from this letter published in  the August 1894 edition of the Aysgarth Parish Magazine:

Please’m Matron says, will you come down and see the flowers? Oh! they are so lovely, and such lots of ‘em.

I gladly obeyed the summons and went down, and this is what I saw – A large table on which were several buckets filled with flowers of every hue – surrounded by eager faces, some hands-filled with flowery treasures, while those who had not yet secured any looked with longing eyes at the great bunches still unappropriated; but soon there was not a child without a flower, and it was amusing to see what each chose, and to hear the chatter – one little mite rejoicing in a huge peony which she had pinned on her pinafore, and remarking to anybody who would listen to her ‘Oh, my! isn’t it a beauty?’

‘Forget-me-nots,’ says a voice, and there is a rush for the happy finder. ‘Look at my button-hole’ from the irrepressible wearer of the peony – and acting upon the idea thus suggested, the Matron says, “Now, I will give a prize to the girl who makes the prettiest button-hole.’

Great is the excitement and the rush for flowers, and when any one has found a special treasure, one is reminded of the happy chicken in the poultry-yard who has secured a dainty tit-bit, only to be pursued by his envying companions and with neither time nor chance to enjoy the prize. But here there is enough for all, and soon the excitement settles down into earnest business – and now some have finished and everybody thinks everybody else’s is better than theirs, and there is much speculation. 

One dark-eyed girl has a really artistic spray, a bunch of pansies, which must have won the prize, only she, alas is in disgrace and so cannot compete.

When all have finished, and their folded names are fastened to their respective bunches, they are laid on white paper, and very pretty they look. ‘Quite a flower show’ someone remarks. Then every one is turned out of the room while the judges (who have not been in the room during the arrangement) perform their office – a difficult one – for the merit is very even . The excitement and impatience outside is extreme, and when we are allowed to come in again, there is dead silence in  the orderly line round the room, though the sparkling eyes speak plainly enough.

The momentous decision is given – a sweet little bunch of yellow, white and dead-pink daisies takes the first prize, and two others receive a second and third. Not a murmur of discontent is heard from the unsuccessful ones. They don their bunches, and think themselves very smart indeed. The proposal of  a future competition in which the Matrons shall also compete, their exhibits to be judged by the prize-winners among the girls is received with acclamation – and so ends a happy evening.

All this pleasure was the result of a gift of flowers, and we feel sure that who send us, and others, hampers of flowers will like to know how much pleasure they give and how their beauty softens our girls and brightens their lives.

The writer continued:

It is much to be wished that our friends at Aysgarth, who so generously responded to their Vicar’s appeal could have been present at St Chad’s Home when their offerings were unpacked. The excitement and interest of the girls and children who were privileged to be present, was fully shared by the Matrons notably by the one-in-charge of the kitchen, who remarked ‘This butter has just come in the nick of time for I had none to send up for tea! Eggs! More eggs! Eggs again! Oh, look a these lovely brown ones – (and at those packed in moss) arn’t they pretty.’

Eggs were the special feature (39 dozen) and much we have enjoyed them since, that is some of them, for the greater number have been subjected to some mysterious process by means of which they will keep till Xmas (always supposing we do not eat them before then).

The clothing was eagerly seized upon by the clothing Matron. The biscuits, sweets, toys, and other good things gladdened the eyes of all, and we felt, as we watched the happy faces and eager  hands, what a privilege it was to be able to give so much pleasure.


The Rev Stow reported that year about the Flower Service:

The Church was full, almost all the children of the parish and many adults were present. Before the sermon, while hymns were being sung, the children marched up the middle aisle each bearing a bouquet of flowers, and many of them also parcels of clothing, eggs, butter, money &c., as offerings in aid of the Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays. In addition about £4 was collected.

During the service the sun had been shining brightly, but after all had assembled in the Vicarage garden unfortunately a very heavy shower occurred. However, all got their tea either inside the house or out of doors as soon as the rain ceased. After this Miss Hill, one of the secretaries for ‘Waifs and Strays’ spoke a few words before a large and attentive audience about those for whom the society carries on its noble work.

The company then adjourned to the field in front of the house where the children held their athletic sports. A nice sum was collected for prizes and some exciting races were run. All seemed in good spirits and enjoyed themselves heartily. After a few speeches and cheers the proceedings terminated.

The flowers were sent, some to the Leeds Infirmary; some to St Chad’s Home for Waifs and Strays; and some to Stockton-on-Tees.


The church has copies of its parish magazine dating back to 1892. In 1892 it was reported: ‘A flower service was held at Aysgarth Church on Thursday June 30th. Each child brought a bouquet of flowers – six hampers of which were afterwards sent to the Leeds Infirmary. After the service the children of the parish and many of their parents and other adult parishioners had tea at the Vicarage. In all about 300 sat down. The weather was fine and it was a bright and pleasant occasion.’

It’s possible that was the first flower service at Aysgarth for the following year the vicar wrote: ‘Our flower service was held on Tuesday June 20. A still larger number of children attended than in 1892. Indeed there was scarcely a child in the parish absent. The quality of the flowers showed improvement. Many of our young friends must have taken a great deal of trouble to procure such charming bouquets.’ A shortened form of service was used and the address (by the Precentor of Ripon Minster) was ‘simple but admirable’.

flower_serviceEveryone – including 300 children – then adjourned to the Vicarage garden for tea and an afternoon of sports organised by the ‘gentlemen of the parish’ who gave handsome prizes to the boys and girls. And at the end of the afternoon each child was presented with a toy. These included 100 dolls which had been dressed at the Vicarage with the assistance of a ‘working party’ of friends. These, it was said,  ‘delighted the motherly hearts of the little girls’. The other gifts included bats, balls, scissors, work baskets and musical instruments.

The Rev Stow added: “Quite a number of parishioners gave gratuitous help on the occasion which was indeed everybody’s treat.’ Two hampers of flowers were sent that year to the Leeds Infirmary and one to the York County Hospital.

The following  year the church began supporting St Chad’s for, as the Rev Stow said in 1895, the flower service provided an ‘opportunity for our children who have happy homes to contribute to the welfare of those poor children who have no homes, or those who, whether they have homes or not, are cruelly treated. Children are invited to bring as offerings eggs or butter, toys or articles of clothing, or anything else ornamental or useful, in addition to their bouquets of flowers.’

Even more children attended the service in 1895 and the fun, the vicar said, carried on till after sunset. In June 1898 the entertainment went on into the evening thanks to a concert by the West Burton Brass Band. The Rev Stow commented again on how so many helped to make the day so successful and enjoyable.  And that year participants could buy copies of photographs of those at the tea and sports.

No flower services were held during World War I but were resumed in 1919. For many years after that war  the music in the evening was provided by the Hawes Band. It is not clear when the church stopped holding the services although it is likely that occurred during World War II.

The Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays  (shortened to The Waifs and Strays Society) was founded in 1881 and by 1902 was caring for over 3,000 children in 90 homes. In 1946 it became the Church of England Children’s Society and i n 1982 that was further shortened to The Children’s Society. It continues to be Britain’s largest child support society having adapted to the needs of our modern society and now helping those  from all faiths and backgrounds.



Maypole photo: from scrapbook of the late May Tunstall with kind permission of Tunstall family

Church Monthly annuals with kind  permission of Aysgarth PCC

Group photo outside the Vicarage on a flower service day c 1900: the original was from the Rev Stow and reproduced in Marian and John Kirby’s ‘Aysgarth Church – Odd bits of history and some of its people’ published by John Kirby in 2009,  with kind permission of Matt and Liz Kirby

Emigrating to Canada in 1892

When reading this account I had several thoughts:

The first was my negative reaction to the arrogance of the first paragraph – that the British, so steeped in their belief in their empire, should think that they had a God-given right to colonise another country and that it would be better for them doing so.

But then I was pleased to see that Church organisations were so ready and willing to provide encouragement and assistance to those who were making such a huge step into the unknown. Some came from very rural communities – just like Pte James Pickard Bell.

He was born in Aysgarth in 1888, the son of the station master, William Bell and his wife Barbara. James emigrated to Canada in 1910 when he was 22 to farm on the prairies of Manitoba. He enlisted in the Army in 1915 and, when with the 43rd Canadians (Grenade Section), was killed during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme in October 1916. He was last seen leading a section of the bombers towards the German Lines and his body was never recovered. There is a photograph of him on Thoralby Through Time.

From The Church Monthly, May 1892

On Board an Emigration Ship

by the Rev C R Job, Vicar of Newington, Hull

goingon_boardThe question of emigration is one which is daily being pressed home with greater force upon vast numbers of people in this country. The rapid growth of population, and the limited area of land capable of cultivation, enclosed by water on every side, point to a time not far distant when ‘pastures new’ must be sought beyond the seas to a very much greater extent than they are now by our sons and daughters. Happily for us, we are a nation of colonists. While we are patriotic to a degree, and love the old country with a love that never dies, we are also gifted with a love of adventure and enterprise, coupled with the power of settling down in far-off lands, and surrounding ourselves with the comforts and happy institutions of the home of our birth. And happily, also for us the wide world offers vast fields in every way suited to our requirements. An incessant stream of enthusiastic humanity is pouring from our ports, going forth ‘to replenish the earth, and subdue it.’; and wherever they place themselves, under the beneficent smile of our Great Father, the wild waste becomes a fruitful field, the prairie becomes a pasture land, and the ‘desert is made to blossom as the rose’.

It was my lot to accompany a large body of emigrants, who sailed from Liverpool for Canada, last year; and it may not be without interest to some to hear what the journey is like. While attempting to describe the incidents of the voyage, I propose to also to try to give such information as I can for the guidance of those who may be contemplating emigration.

Canada, being nearer than any of the other British Colonies, can be reached quicker, and at less expense, the time occupied from Liverpool to Quebec or Halifax being from nine to eleven days. The cost for third class passengers is about £4. Special emigrant trains meet the boats, fitted with sleeping berths, and which carry you to your destination at exceedingly low fares.

It is always wise to be provided with warm clothing for the journey, and also for wear in the severe weather on the other side. Clothing is one of the few things which are more costly in Canada than in England. Everything necessary in the way of food is provided on board ship.

I will ask you to let your thoughts go with us from port to port. All is bustle and excitement as the time arrives for us to sail, luggage pours on board in tremendous confusion, partly because far too many leave everything to the last moment. Friends accompany us on the ship to see what it is like and to say last good-bye. Finally, the bell rings for friends to go ashore, the steam is up, the word is given to ‘let her go’, and we are off. Lingering, wistful looks are exchanged as long as eyesight will serve, and then we turn our attention to our new quarters, and try to accommodate ourselves to our novel situation. The decks are soon cleared of the piles of luggage of every description, and all is order and neatness.

Ere long the bell rings for dinner, and those who have crossed the ‘mill-pond’ as the Yankees call it, before, advise us to make a good meal while we can; and this advice we do our best to follow. At first, thoughts of home and thoughts of what may be before us fill our minds, and we are disposed to be silent but by-and-by, our natural friendliness loosens our tongues, and we break the ice of estrangement by some common-place remark, and soon we have many speaking acquaintances which, in some places, ripen into friendships. Indeed, our voyage is not without its romance, for at least one matrimonial engagement is formed ere we land.

I am appointed for this voyage by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge to do what I can for the spiritual welfare of the emigrants, and to give them such assistance as I can in other ways as well. Many have been provided with letters from their parish clergyman, and these are first sought out, and a note made of their names and destination.

During the course of the voyage the acquaintance of many others is made, and advice is tendered wherever needed. All are urged not to put themselves in the hands of strangers when they land, as there are bad characters always on the look-out to take advantage of the ignorance of unwary ones. The name of the nearest clergyman to the place to which they are destined is given in each case, and they are urged to go to him in any case of difficulty. In many instances letters of introduction are written and put in their hands. And here let me say that every intending emigrant should, before starting, provide himself with a letter of introduction from his parish clergyman to the chaplain of the ship by which he intends to sail, and also one to take to the clergyman of the district in which he proposes to settle down. He will then be sure of a friend and adviser who may be of the greatest advantage to him.

Our passage is very smooth and pleasant until we reach the little town of Moville in the north of Ireland, where we call for the mails. We have yet to find our sea legs, for the Atlantic has ways of her own about which our seas know nothing. ‘Now, my boy, let us do the Old Salt as long as we can,’ said a friend who had crossed many times and knew what to expect. And steadily we paced the quarterdeck for half an hour, when conversation grew rapidly fitful and finally, after a long ominous pause, we betook ourselves below. The next few hours it is not necessary to describe. Everybody has heard of the stage of sea-sickness in which you are afraid you are going to die, and then the still worse stage in which you are afraid you are not. Suffice it to say, that sooner or later you get over it, and in four-and-twenty hours a very large proportion creep on deck, and enjoy the  life-giving breeze and the delicious sunshine.

With a fairly calm sea, deck quoits, shovel-board and skipping ropes are produced on the third day, and everybody tries to enter into enjoyment of some kind. The ship is for a time our little world. There is not very much to do and our steps are circumscribed; but there are many lessons to be learned for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. There are many on board who are returning after a visit to the home country, and they are full of information, and ready to give it kindly and ungrudgingly. From these the wise ones seek to gather all they can.

They learn that it is useless for those who know nothing about farming to go and place themselves on the 160-acre free grants until they have first spent a couple of years as hired labourers. The people who are sure to get on are farmers, farm labourers, domestic servants, and artisans. Everybody who is steady and will work is sure  of a living, but nothing is to be obtained without toil.

Opportunities for acts of kindness offer themselves, for some are sickly, and there is no lack of kind hearts who vie with each other to make all happy and bright. The ship’s doctor makes a tour of the emigrants’ quarters every day to see that everything is in a sanitary condition, and to minister to all who require his assistance. His cheery smile and encouraging words do good  like a medicine.

Twice a day we have a bright little service on deck, weather permitting. Our choir consists of a dozen or so of the passengers who have voices. We sing a few hymns, in which all are ready to take part with a heartiness that is delightful and stirring. A portion of the Prayer Book service is used, and a short address is given. On Sundays the saloon is placed at our disposal, and is literally crammed with worshippers. Our surroundings seem to make worship very easy. We feel our utter dependence upon our God. We cannot but pray. Hearts are homesick, and turn instinctively to the One Father for comfort. Minds are anxious, and seek for guidance from the great God who holds all things in the hollow of His Hand. Our beautiful Church service never seemed so delightful nor so full of happy, holy associations as now. And when a small group of us gather round the Holy Table, in happy communion with each other and with our Lord, we can not feel that He who gave His life for us will take care of those we have left behind, and that our future, unknown as it is, is safe in His keeping.

The days go by pleasantly if a little slowly. Occasionally we see a passing ship and, if possible, signals are exchanged. And as we approach the banks of Newfoundland we get into the track of icebergs.  Great is the excitement when the first is seen like a great mountain of snow rising out of the deep. It is sixty feet high and a quarter of a mile long. In the course of four-and-twenty hours we no less than twenty-three and each is different, and are all beautiful. But they are not things of beauty only. If a fog comes on they are a source of great danger as a collision with one of these masses of floating ice means almost certain shipwreck.

Soon, however, we are clear of their track and now we are anxiously inquiring, from the men on the watch, how soon we shall catch a sight of the longed-for land. So accurate are their calculations that they can tell us almost to a few minutes. A thrill of delight is experienced by all when the lighthouse gleam is first sighted. Another hour’s run and we shall be in Halifax harbour!” We are leaving the Atlantic rollers behind and passing into still waters. More lights are seen. A gun is fired on the ship and immediately answered by another on shore. Rockets are sent  up and the sky is all ablaze with coloured stars.

It is a lovely night, the air is crisp and frosty, the moon beams upon us in brilliant fulness, and as we glide silently to the quay side, all the glories of the skies are reflected in the glassy sea. The whole is a touching illustration of the close of the Christian’s life when the waves of this troublesome world are safely passed, when all the perils and perplexities are for ever over, and he calmly enters into the ‘haven where he would be’.

With marvellous alacrity the living freight is unshipped and, after the scrutiny of the custom-house, the trains which are in waiting hurry us off to Montreal and to Ontario and the far West. Thus is the daughter colony continually receiving precious supplies from the mother country. And while she feeds and enriches them she, in her turn, is being made great and  prosperous by them.


The Rev Job then provided the names and addresses of church organisations in the UK willing to help emigrants.


About Pte James Pickard Bell – ‘Wensleydale Remembered’ by Keith Taylor, Country Books, 2004, p128

Article by the Rev Job published in ‘The Church Monthly’, 1892, pp 150-152, with permission from Aysgarth PCC.

Memories of a beetle collector


A boy filling his pockets with bottles so that he could collect beetles and other creepy crawlies conjures up memories of Gerald Durrell – or even his mentor, Theodore Stephanides. But  this Theodore died in 1923, two years before Durrell was born.

The Rev Canon Theodore Wood FES (1863-1923)  followed his father, the Rev John George Wood (1827-1889), in almost everything.  Both trained to become Church of England clergy but then went on to become well-known for their popular books and articles about natural history. (Left: A boy in knicker-bockers like those Theodore Wood would have worn. Theodore had a sister, Amy, who was two years younger than him. The illustration is from the March 1892 issue of The Church Monthly.)

Theodore wrote in his biography about his father: “[It] may fairly be claimed for my father that he was the first to popularise natural history, and to render it interesting and even intelligible to non-scientific minds.” (The Rev J G Wood; His Life and Work by Theodore Wood FES)

The 1892 compilation of The Church Monthly owned by Aysgarth Church begins with a letter by the Rev Fenwick Stowe, Vicar of Aysgarth, introducing the new parish magazine. That January he reported that he had given the second of his two lectures (illustrated with lantern slides) about his visit to Canada “in the Gymnasium”. I am grateful to Bob Ellis and Liz Kirby for identifying this as having been a room in the tall building at the top of Church Bank opposite the Aysgarth  Falls Hotel. In the 1881 census it was called the Palmer Flatt Boarding School and was also known to the local community as the Rev Hales’s school – for its headmaster from 1877 was the Rev Clement T Hales (1845-1900). He moved what had become Aysgarth School to its present site at Newton-le-Willows in 1890.  From 1907 to 1947 the building housed the Aysgarth TB sanitorium.

In January 1892 the two-page parish magazine included the church notices and information about two baptisms. It ended with this comment by the Vicar: “We hope every one has noticed the beauty of our Christmas decorations.” This was followed by the January edition of The Church Monthly beginning with:



Rev Wood:

For more than twenty years now, with two or three brief interruptions, I have been one of those fortunate mortals who are able to enjoy a country ramble at all seasons of the year. I have made pretty fair use of my opportunities.

I began by incurring scorn and contumely at school because I would prefer insects to cricket, so that a fine “painted lady” or “lime hawk” seemed to me a better and a greater thing than a score of ever so many, not out; I have been looked upon as a sort of amiable lunatic almost ever since, owning to my fondness for going about with a net in my h and, and my pockets stuffed out with bottles and pill-boxes; and I am still regarded by a certain section of my parishioners as one who ought, by all means, to be encouraged (on the strength of sixpence apiece paid for many a blindworm and hedgehog), but who is undoubtedly in some respects much more than a little “daft”.  “’Ee bring whoam to-ads in ‘is ‘arnkerchief, ‘ee du.”

But the result is, that from January to December I know pretty well what is going on in the fields and woodlands around me, where it is to be looked for, and how it is to be found.  January might not seem a very promising month for out-door rambling; and yet I have always found much to interest me.

Once I went out, from pure curiosity, and without the least expectation of finding anything, to fish in a small pond, when the ice was five inches thick, and a sharp north-east wind was blowing. The cold was fearful, and seemed to numb one to the very marrow; yet life in that little pond was going on very much as usual.  The frost had been too much for the fish, it is true; for the thick ice had prevented them from obtaining a proper supply of air…. When I cut out a hole with the chopper which I had brought with me, and sent down my net into the depths below, I found that the more lowly inhabitants of the waters were very lively indeed. Up came a big black beetle… a water boatman … a water-scorpion too, a flat, dull creature, with great jaw-like forelegs and a long bristle sticking out from the end of his body. There were several tiny beetles and several tiny grubs which would be beetles by-and-by, always provided that none of their numerous enemies ate them meanwhile.

In the outer world, however, insects during a frost, are conspicuous by their absence. As a matter of fact, they are as numerous as ever; only they are all in hiding.  Moss is full of them; the loose rubbish underneath haystacks swarms with them; there are numbers beneath the bark of decaying trees, in company with a perfect host of spiders, wood-lice and centipedes; buried in the ground there are numbers and numbers more.

Farmers mostly welcome a hard winter largely with the notion that it will kill down the insects. Never was a more mistaken idea. If anything, indeed, a hard winter is rather beneficial to insects for it prevents the birds from getting at them. And in the following summer they are nearly always unusually plentiful.

Winter moths are curious creatures. One sees numbers of them on fences and tree-trunks in January when the weather is mild; and at night the attractions of the gas-lamps lure hundreds of them to their doom. They are very dull and unattractive-looking beings, most of them; slight in body and sombre in hue, with nothing whatever remarkable about them. But these are the males. The singularity lies in the females, which are fat-bodied, long-legged, spider-like creatures, with only the merest apologies for wings, and bearing no resemblance whatever to their lords and masters. What charms the latter can see in them it is difficult to understand. They are not pretty in our eyes; they are not graceful; they cannot even fly. Yet no doubt they are as beautiful in the eyes of the other sex as if they were as broad-winged themselves, and flashing with all the resplendent glories of some of the tropical butterflies.

One of these winter moths is white, and has a curious faculty of rendering itself quite indistinguishable when sitting upon a black fence. This it does by choosing a spot which has been splashed with mud by passing vehicles; and the mud-spot and the moth, somehow or other, from a few feet away, look to the unpractised eye exactly alike.

The titmice [blue tits] are making themselves very conspicuous. They like to be fed with fat in the winter months, and the best way to do it is to tie  up a  lump of suet in a piece of wide-meshed netting, and then suspend it by a yard or so of string from the branch of a tree. By this plan it is protected from the ever-aggressive sparrow, who cannot cling to the netting as the titmouse can, and is obliged to look jealously on while that feathered athlete peck away at the feast. The sparrow has often hustled the titmouse away from the morning crumbs on the window-ledge; it is something to the titmouse to find him baffled for once.

Nothing to see this January day? There is life, and plenty of it, everywhere about us. A fox prowling cautiously round that rabbit-warren on the side of the hill. Hounds don’t hunt him on frosty days, and he feels safe, and is looking about for a nice fat rabbit for dinner.

Here on this twig is a batch of insects’ eggs, encircling it in a broad ring as regularly as if they had been affixed by human art; there is a cocoon, spun neatly up in a chink of the bark. A neighbouring bough is riddled with beetle burrows; they tell a tale of disease and impending death. Even that tuft of grass at our feet is full of slumbering tenants.

We may not hear the busy hum of life that by-and-by will greet us; we may not see the thronging hordes of active creatures that by-and-by will be at work in wood and heath and fi8eld. Yet Nature is never really asleep; and even on this cold January day her pulses are throbbing around us, and her armies have only to be looked for in order to be found


It was reported in the February edition of the parish magazine that the weather had been so bad on January 18 that the Sunday School children from Thornton Rust had not been able to attend the Parish Tea in the Gymnasium. But those from Aysgarth and West Burton were there for the prize giving. They also provided the entertainment which included a number of new “Action Songs”. Two days later a concert, also in the Gymnasium, was well attended.

The vicar reported on two other concerts – and a serious epidemic of influenza. He wrote: “The epidemic has certainly reached us now but up to date of writing no very bad cases have been reported. It is much to be hoped that by God’s blessing the change in the weather may tend to stay the spread of the complaint.”

There was also a short financial report about the West Burton Clothing Club in 1891. It was noted that the club was started in 1874 and that more than £250 worth of clothing had been distributed to the poor of West Burton.

In his “A February Ramble” the Rev Wood grumbled about our British winters: “There is no depending upon winter at all. It may bring us a long spell of Siberian cold or it may pass by with scarcely a week of frost or a fall of snow.” He commented again on the fickleness of British weather in his March report (below).

In March the Rev Stowe reported that the list of Lent preachers was not complete “chiefly owing to the influenza”. But at least the churches were open – which cannot be said this year as we approach Easter.



Rev Wood:

March, to me, has been a month of many and grievous disappointments. When I was a boy in knicker-bockers, madly enthusiastic as any boy could be over butterflies, and moths, and beetles, and things creeping of every kind – with the exception of centipedes which have ever been my abhorrence – I always look forward with hope and gladness to the first few days of March as the end of the winter of my discontent.

According to the books in which I believed with all my small heart and soul, birds ought to be building, and flowers starting up, and bees busily working, and butterflies enjoying the warm spring sunshine, and moths flocking in their multitudes to the honey-laden catkins of the sallow.  And yet, when that distressful month dawned, I sallied forth again and again, and searched tree-trunks by the hundred, and fences by the mile, and turned over stones in number greater than I should like to count, only to return home with saddened countenance, and boxes empty as when I set out.

And once, later, I took a special holiday in March, and went down to a certain favoured spot by the sea, on the strength of many notable captures made at that particular time in the preceding year, only to see the snow on the ground during the whole fortnight  that I was there, while the wind never for a moment came from any quarter but the east.  So that not a single insect summoned up courage to venture from its retreat.

Yet I have had many pleasant rambles in March, and seen many curious and interesting sights; for when the weather is mild, Nature commences her spring work in a  hurry. Birds do begin to build, sometimes, and even get well on with family matters before the end of the month.

One can always look with some degree of certainty, for instance, for the nest of the thrush. For thrushes have two or even three broods to bring up in the course of the season, and therefore it behoves them to begin work early if they want to get their first quartet of nestlings fairly started in life before the gooseberries and currants are ripe.

But they are not at all wise birds in the way they set about their task. Their one great aim and object, indeed, seems to be to make their nest as obtrusively conspicuous as possible.  So they either select a young and solitary tree, in which it must be plainly visible for fifty or sixty yards in every direction (they like oaks best, because the leaves are longest in coming), or they place it within a yard or two of a much-frequented pathway, or they leave a long streamer of straw hanging down, which cannot but attract the notice of every passer-by.

The blackbird, too, which begins building about the same time, is quite as foolish, although in a different way. It takes a good deal of trouble to conceal its nest, and stands by it most pluckily until one is just abreast of the bush in which it is built. Then, however, its courage seems suddenly to fail it, and off it flies with a loud and terrified squall, which inevitably betrays the secret of its dwelling.

A year of two ago I found a nest which had clearly been built by a blackbird of an original and economical turn of mind; for it was placed upon a bramble-branch against a paling, in such wise that the paling itself did duty as part of the structure. Strictly speaking, in fact, it was only half a nest, which was fastened against the fence very much as that of the martin is fastened against the wall of a house. After making it, however, the builder seemed to have been disappointed with the result, for no eggs were laid in it, and it had apparently been deserted as soon as it was finished.

A warm, sunny day in March is sure to bring out some butterflies. Most of these have been hiding away  since the autumn in dark, sheltered corners, and are now bent on recuperating their bodily energies after their prolonged fast. So their object is to find, if it be possible, some early spring flower which will furnish them with a draught of refreshing nectar. Most of these butterflies look much the worse for wear. Their six weeks of pleasure and idleness in the autumn have result in wings chipped and torn, and the loss of many a plum and scale. And some are so tattered and worn that one marvels that they can fly at all.

But this pale yellow sulphur fluttering lazily by is as perfect and fresh as possible. He looks as if he has never flown before. As far as appearances go, he might have come out from the chrysalis this very day. ~And it is more than likely that he has don so for sulphurs, unlike peacocks, and admirals, and tortoiseshells, do not live through the winter as perfect butterflies, but wait until the first warm days of spring to emerge from the pupal shell.

Once, and only once, I ran a sulphur butterfly down in fair chase – soon after I began collecting when sulphurs, as yet, were rarities to me. It led me for fully three-quarters of a mile through a piece of rough and hilly woodland, and at last dropped utterly exhausted in the ferns just before me. I killed  it, and pinned it into my collecting-box – a proceeding for which I have ever since been sorry. The insect  had struggled gamely for its life and done far more than could have been expected of a little weak-winged butterfly. And I think it deserved its life.

We shall very likely see a squirrel – not gambolling among the trees, as by-and-by he will, but either visiting or returning from one of those stores of nuts and beech-mast which he  laid up so carefully in the autumn. For his appetite, after five months or so of slumber, is as keen as that of the butterflies, and he is now able to reap the fruits of that strange instinct which led him to provide for a future of which, very likely, he had no conception at all. For how can a squirrel of three of four months old know that a time of frost and cold is coming in which it will be able to find no food? Yet it lays up its stores, just as if it had lived for years. Truly a wonderful  instinct.

I once say a squirrel drop from the upper branches of a lofty tree. In leaping from one bough to another his missed his footing, and fell some fifty feet to the ground. I ran to the spot, expecting to find him a crushed and quivering carcase; but long before I could reach him he was on his feet again, scampering as fast as his short legs would carry him to the nearest tree, and apparently none the worse for his tumble. For a squirrel, when he falls, stretches out his legs to their full extent, and converts himself into a kind of parachute; so that the air buoys him up, just as it buoys up on oyster-shell or a flat stone when we throw it sideways. And consequently the rapidity of his descent is greatly lessened, and he alights on the ground uninjured.

Children’s Playtime early 1890s


When I was helping to scan the Aysgarth and Upper Wensleydale Parish Magazines for the Friends of the Countryside Museum archives it was very difficult not to be tempted into reading some of the fascinating stories in The Church Monthly annuals in which they were published. Now I’m “locked down” I do have time to go back and read those books more carefully – and to share some of the most fascinating stories and illustrations.

I start with some wonderful illustrations of children at play. The first two pages were published in July 1892:




Those below were published in 1894, probably in February.




From The Church Monthly,  1892 and 1894, published by The “Church Monthly” Office, Ludgate Circus, London. My thanks to Aysgarth Parochial Church Council for allowing me to reproduce these from books owned by St Andrew’s Church.

A Mothering Sunday story

The carved wooden pulpit at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth, has an unusual feature: on the central panel there is an old woman.

I like to think that the man who donated the pulpit to the church, Frank Sayer Graham, had her included in memory of his mother who, in the Victorian era, would have been described as a fallen woman!

In 1851 Frank’s mother, Elizabeth, then 25-years-old, was listed as the house servant of  59-years-old Francis Sayer of Aysgarth. Her son was born in 1859 in West Witton and she returned to Aysgarth as Mr Sayer’s housekeeper. It was not until Mr Sayer died that Frank added Sayer to his name. According to the 1881 census he was an unemployed clerk living with his mother.

He did eventually inherit from his father and ten years later was living in Aysgarth on his own means with his wife Mary.

He used his inheritance to build in Aysgarth a state of the art Edwardian house (Heather Cottage) which embraced the Arts and Crafts movement of the time and a fascinating Edwardian rock garden.

This is now the only remaining Edwardian rock garden in North Yorkshire. It was said that between 1906 and 1913 1,500 tons of native stone were used to build it.

Frank also developed a successful business which included exporting live grouse from Scotland to the German Kaiser and silver grey rabbit furs from the warren at Lady Hill in Wensleydale to pre-revolution Russia.

The love of his life was his first wife, Mary but she died in December 1911, aged just 45. To remember her he commissioned that magnificent pulpit. The architects (Messrs Hicks and Charlewood), the company which dealt with the wood carving (Ralph Hedley and Son) and Robert Beall who did the stonework were all based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The vicar of Aysgarth, the Rev  William K Wyley reported in the Upper Wensleydale Parish Magazine  in April 1915 that the Bishop of Richmond would dedicate the pulpit that month.  He added: “The service will be choral and the Bishop will preach.”

He continued: “The pulpit is of richly carved Crown Austrian Oak of natural colour. The shape is octagonal and the design is XV (15th) Century Gothic in keeping with the ancient Abbot’s Stall and the Rood Screen from Jervaulx Abbey.

“It stands upon a graceful base of Beerstone (which is similar in appearance to Caen stone [of the reredos] but of a harder nature); this base is richly moulded, with traceries and carving.

“The pulpit has four panels, well set back in niches with groined roofs and Ogee-shaped crocketed canopies above, which are designed to accord with those at the end of the Abbot’s Stall.”

He described how other features of the pulpit were not only in accord with the Abbot’s Stall but also with the Jervaulx Screen.

The subject of the central panel of the pulpit, he said, was based on the hymn “Lead kindly light” and represented Jesus about to heal the man born blind (John 9:5).

He noted: “The artist has included the mother of the blind man without direct Scriptural authority.”

The panel on the south side illustrated the hymn “Fight the good fight” as this was another of Mrs Graham’s favourites.  That on the north side was on the theme of Holy Innocents’ Day based on Rev 14:1-5.

On the final panel there is an inscription which reads: “To the Glory of God and in affectionate remembrance of Mary Elizabeth Graham of Aysgarth, who fell asleep on Holy Innocents’ Day  1911…  She sweetened the lives of others and in their love survives.”

The story goes that, when Mary was dying, she asked Frank to marry her sister. This he did but there was, it seemed, little love in the marriage. When he died in 1946 he left his widow the following: A house in Wales, £100, some wooden items that Mary had made, and “a Hoover Sweeper Absolute”. (from Will transcribed by Marian Kirby)


The Doctor’s Window


Above: The Doctor’s Window at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth, which depicts the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15).

Before the National Health Service (NHS) was introduced  in Britain in 1948 many people could not afford to go and see a doctor, as a retired doctor, Margaret Hoyle explained:

“You didn’t get the ‘walking wounded’ and there was no preventative medicine then or early diagnosis. People would treat themselves with herbal medicines as long as they could – and medical attention would probably be out of the reach of many because they had to pay a fee.”

DrWillisbThat would certainly have been the situation that Dr Matthew Willis (left) would have found in the 1860s when he became the first doctor to live in Aysgarth. He was born in Aysgarth as his father had a grocery and drapery shop in the village. He qualified as a doctor in Edinburgh.

Dr Willis became known for being kind to the poor but sadly he died of tuberculosis in February 1871. His patients wanted to ensure he wasn’t forgotten and so paid for the stained glass window at St Andrew’s which has become known as the “Doctor’s Window”.

There are now plaques near that window in memory of three other doctors who had been based at Aysgarth. These include Dr William (Will)  Pickles who became famous after the publication in 1939 of his book Epidemiology in a Country Practice.

Mrs Hoyle said: “The causes of infectious diseases were still being discovered. He was in a unique position  at that time because the dales folk were then fairly circumscribed. If someone came in (from outside the dale) it was noticed. So if there was an epidemic he could pinpoint when it came in and the incubation period.” His careful statistical studies were written up by his wife Gertrude (Gerty) the daughter of the wealthy Burnley mill owner, Harry Tunstill, who owned Thornton Lodge at Thornton Rust.

Dr Pickles joined the Aysgarth practice in 1913 but was away from  April 1914 to January 1919  when he was serving as a surgeon with the Royal Navy. He died in 1969. Doctors Derek and Margaret Hoyle ran the practice from 1979 until they retired in 1995.

I interviewed Mrs Hoyle in 2009 when we were preparing for the Heritage Event at St Andrew’s.

For more about Dr Pickles click here